As one of Europe’s micro-states, and a principality, it seems a holdover from a time when city-states and fiefdoms were the usual political structures.
At the same time, in these times of people looking for leadership figures to give them a sense of security and local structures to give them a clear sense of belonging, maybe Liechtenstein is a symbol of a possible future?
However that should turn out, Liechtenstein is and remains one of Austria’s neighboring countries – and it was not a place I had ever set foot in.
The day before the program started, I took a train to Feldkirch, the bus to Vaduz, and immediately visited the National Museum.
That immediately led to two realizations, once I had spent my first few hours there:
One, I really should have come here much sooner.
Two, the connections between Austria and Liechtenstein – and Liechtenstein and the whole world – are many. And just the right kinds of connections that call on us to #GetAtHome.
Connections, that is, which go unnoticed, which wouldn’t really call on our attention.
Connections that are there and fascinating if only we meet them with an openness to being fascinated.
So Small, And Already a Country?
It all starts, cliche though that may be, with the mere existence of the country and an awareness of it.
Fourth-smallest of Europe’s miniature nations, even Swiss and Austrians, whose neighbor Liechtenstein is, would easily forget about it.
Or remember only that it was not just Switzerland that was somewhat infamous for numbered accounts and financial tax wizardry, but also Liechtenstein.
For adding yet another nation to the list of countries you’ve visited on a quick Europe tour, though, there’s Liechtenstein.
And you would be remiss if that were all you thought Liechtenstein was good for.
The country is beautifully situated west of the Rhine valley’s course through this part of the Alps.
It is small, and all the more interesting an example with which to consider what it means to have and be a part of a nation.
There is this popular idea that a nation is a territory marked by a common language uniting its people, if not “a language with an army.”
Good luck with that.
The inhabitants of Liechtenstein speak an Alemannic dialect, i.e. basically a form of German (or various of them, if one looks at it exactly).
Standard German is the official language.
The Swiss Franc is the official currency.
The army was dissolved in 1868 (“for financial reasons”) and only halfheartedly raised even before then, and only when the ruler of the larger political structure to which Liechtenstein belonged really insisted on it.
Perhaps the most famous anecdote about that Liechtenstein army is the episode where their soldiers were actually sent into a war.
80 soldiers were sent out.
81 came back.
They’d made a friend along the way.
Territories and Settlement, Nation and World
Does it really take a nation to have a settled area?
Nowadays we may think so, but the signs of habitation in the area of Liechtenstein go back to 8000-10000 or so years ago.
There were people here even as technology was only barely up to the cold of winter. Or maybe we misunderstand what it takes to survive?
You’d rather have heated houses and sanitation?
Well, the Romans also had garrisons (and settlements?) here. With heated floors, canalization, and all.
There’s wine growing here, meaning you can be pretty sure the Romans brought wine here.
And then, when you move towards modern times?
Liechtenstein was a poor agricultural country for a long time.
It was only with their establishing of a strong financial services industry that they really managed to grow – but it was not only that. Some 40% of GDP come from industry.
And that industry, too, turned out to contain a few familiar names I would not have connected to Liechtenstein: Hilti, for example. Or Hilcona.
The biggest surprise to me, though, historic as that would be: The Curta mechanical calculating machines came from Liechtenstein (where manufacture is concerned; their inventor was a Viennese Jew… It’s all a long and typical WWII-era story).
All I knew of that part of early computing history came from William Gibson and his novel “Pattern Recognition”…
Rulers, Far and Familiar
In the midst of digital technology revolutions, somehow we are still enchanted not just by mechanical calculating machines, but also by the idea of kings and princes.
Well, in Liechtenstein one finds an example of a still-existing, if parliamentary-democratic, country headed by a prince. (Or count, rather, if you go by the German title of a Fürst.)
The very name of the country, in full, is Fürstentum Liechtenstein… and yet, visitors at least are only all the more welcome.
In typical European fashion, these rulers have been having an interesting standing:
They usually weren’t even there, but rather represented their countries (themselves?) in the capital of the larger polity they belonged to.
In the case of the house of Liechtenstein, that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or at least Vienna.
In fact, the very name of the family comes from their ancestral castle of Liechtenstein, which is basically on the outskirts of Vienna (in Maria Enzersdorf).
It was also, talking of connections, very interesting to see the holdings they (used to) have. These included the Riegersburg, for example, which I’d visited before, but would never even have imagined as having anything to do with Liechtenstein.
The current ruler, I was told, still speaks a German which is rather Viennese, very much unlike his subjects.
He and his family, they say, would be just about the only people they wouldn’t address with the familiar “du” – but one might encounter them hiking somewhere in the forest or having a pizza and not quite recognizing them, anyways.
We didn’t see them, even when we took to the skies above the castle of Vaduz, but #princelymoments and connections to #GetAtHome there sure were enough – and with my visit to the Liechtenstein National Museum which drew most of those connections, the adventure had barely started.